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Poland Trip 2024 - Sunday

We woke up extra early today (4 AM!) to be the first group visiting Auschwitz. We started off the day like always, davening shacharit in a shul that isn’t used anymore. After breakfast in a nearby hotel, we marched from the train tracks into Auschwitz II - Birkenau, just like the people deported there did. Outside the camp, Rav Brown told us about the layout of the camp which is surprisingly still mostly standing. Our madricha, Shira, shared the story of her Zaidy, and I read a chapter from my father's book about his Zaidy. As the sun rose, we continued walking along the train tracks until we sat down to hear testimonies of survivors. We were then given some time to explore or sit and write. When we gathered together again, we learned about the Sauna, or gas chamber, and the uprising there. We learned about how the prisoners were stripped of their humanity and publicly humiliated, but still mustered enough courage to kill a few Nazi guards. We stopped at the train tracks again to hear about the different areas in the camp, then made our way to Auschwitz I. The camp gets around 5000 tourists a day, or a million a year, only about 10% of them being Jewish. Our tour guide took us into the camp through the Arbeit Macht Frei gate. It was surreal to see the gate in person and symbolic to walk through it and subsequently the gas chamber and crematorium, wearing our Israeli flags. Since this camp has many buildings still standing, they are used as a museum for their many tourists. Inside the barracks are many exhibits including piles of hair, shoes, and luggage that was all stripped from the prisoners. It was heart-wrenching to know that these belonged to people just like us who are no longer here. The museum ended with the book of names where around 4 million of those who perished in the Holocaust are remembered. We finished our visit with many of us sharing personal stories about our relatives' experiences in the Holocaust and then drove to a cemetery nearby to share more stories. Then we had a late lunch and reflected on the trip. We drove back to the hotel where we had dinner and learned about Sara Schneirer, who changed women's learning forever. It was quite an emotional day.
By Naava Bodek